After H. and I read Heat, the memoir about New Yorker writer Bill Buford’s time as an apprentice in Italian cooking at Mario Batali’s Babbo restaurant, we were determined to try the food there. Last summer, we spent a day eating and walking our way through Manhattan, all the way from Morningside Heights down to Greenwich Village, where we tried our luck at the Babbo bar. Reservations aren’t required, and in the first come first serve policy, we got seated in twenty minutes.
Savoring our three pasta dishes and their wine pairings was a delectable experience that, coupled with Bill Buford’s engaging stories about learning to make pasta from a serene little lady in Italy and bringing his knowledge back to Babbo’s chaotic kitchen, made us want to be Italian food apprentices too. Babbo’s raviolis were gourmet pillows of pumpkin and sage, goat cheese and orange that made our mouths and minds work in questioning anticipation: how could we make these at home, in Bombay, where handmade pasta is almost always confined to a five-star experience?
Before I moved to India in August I ordered Batali’s Molto Italiano off Amazon and flipped through its glossy pages until I reached the pasta section. The recipe itself sounded fairly simple: 3.5 cups of flour + 5 eggs = pasta dough, while it was handiwork that seemed strenuous and skilled: the kneading, stretching, and rolling of the dough until it became as precariously thin as a supermodel. To make the pasta so thin- without a pasta machine- takes strength, and patience, and determination. But if you have that, making it is fairly easy and so worthwhile. Handmade pasta has this haunting, immensely pleasurable toothsomeness that changes the way you appreciate the dish. When made from scratch, it is no longer just a mode of transporting tomato sauce or goat cheese; instead, the whole package is a savory experience.
H. then remembered that in Heat, Buford had written two other recipes for pasta dough, one of which was a Babbo secret revealed for the first time in his book. That recipe called for 3 eggs, 8 egg yolks, salt, olive oil and a splash of water for every pound of flour. The two recipes vary in the egg quantity and from what I read in Heat, the egg’s function is to moisten and flavor the dough, giving it a light and chewy bite. Buford writes that the reason Batali uses so many more yolks than his teacher in Italy who used 1 egg for every 100 grams of flour, is because the eggs he was getting in New York weren’t as fresh and therefore as flavorful as the ones his teacher got in her small Italian town.
We adapted our recipe for the pasta dough to the size of Desi (Indian) eggs available; they’re generally much smaller than their American counterparts and the yolks are a gorgeous, vivid yellow. The general rule here is that you should add as many eggs/yolks as is necessary to moisten the dough; olive oil and salt are just the added intensifiers.
adapted from Heat (p. 183) and Molto Italiano
3.5 cups flour
4 (desi) eggs
7 (desi) egg yolks
a splash of olive oil & water
a dash of salt
1.Combine the eggs, egg yolks, salt, and a dribble of olive oil and water in a bowl and lightly beat with a fork until combined.
2. Mound the flour at the center of a cutting board. Make a well in the center of the flour and add the beaten mixture from the bowl.
3. Using a fork, incorporate the flour starting with the inner rim of the well. As you expand the well, try to keep pushing the flour up to retain the well shape (this will probably look messy but don’t worry). When half the flour is incorporated, the dough will begin to come together. Start kneading the dough, using primarily the palms of your hands. Once the dough is a cohesive mass, set it aside and scrape up and discard any dried bits of dough.
4. Lightly flour the board and continue kneading for a full ten minutes (or more if your arms don’t get tired), dusting the board with additional flour if necessary, until the dough becomes elastic and a little sticky. Then, wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it rise for 30 minutes. In Molto Italiano, Batali writes that this process of kneading and resting the dough “develops the gluten to the maximum and will create a noodle that has an almost al dente and chewy feel to it.”
5. When you unwrap the dough, it will have softened. Do not be tempted to knead it again now.
6. Cut the dough in 4 pieces and wrap 3 of them up again in plastic or cover with a damp kitchen towel.
7. Quickly roll ping pong sized balls of dough and then flatten each piece with the palm of your hand. Dust your cutting board/counter/workspace with flour.
8. Using a rolling pin, start rolling out the dough, dusting flour when necessary to prevent it from sticking to the workspace or pin. Gradually roll the dough in each direction so its width remains equal. If you roll gently and patiently, you can achieve a very thin stretch of dough.
9. When you think the dough is at its thinnest, take a knife and lightly cut it into equal sized squares or rectangles. Put a teaspoon sized amount of filling a little above the middle of the piece. Dip a finger in some water and moisten three ajoining sides of the square further from the filling. Gently lift that side of the piece, pull it over the filling and press down on the opposite corners. Seal the the two edges of the pasta square together, pressing out any air pockets.
10. In a pot of boiling water, submerge the ravioli for 2-4 minutes, until pasta is tender. Serve with sauce.